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Aust Defence Minister - Libya and more


MINISTER FOR DEFENCE

STEPHEN SMITH, MP

TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, PERTH

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 18 MARCH 2011

TOPICS: UN Security Council resolution on Libya, Christmas Island, Afghanistan, CHOGM.

STEPHEN SMITH: I just wanted to make some remarks about Libya then I'm happy to respond to your questions.

Firstly the Australian Government welcomes very much the United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya. We welcome very much the decision of the Security Council to authorise chapter 7 enforcement action to effect a no fly zone over Libya.

Importantly the resolution has as its hallmark the protection of civilians will allow aircraft flying to occur for humanitarian or evacuation purposes and importantly makes the point that this does not authorise an occupation or an invasion of Libya on the ground.

In terms of the implementation of the no fly zone the Security Council resolution makes it clear that member states are now called upon to effect that resolution and call upon member states or relevant organisations, regional organisations to consult and liaise with the Secretary General of the United Nations and also with the Secretary General of the Arab League. And earlier in the week both the Foreign Minister and I welcomed very much the resolution of the Arab League calling for a no fly zone over Libya.

It is clearly the case that NATO and its constituent members will now give consideration to enforcement action, and the detail and the timing of that is not something that I would be drawn on given that that goes to operational matters. When I was in Brussels last week for a meeting with NATO and international security assistance force defence ministers NATO defence ministers resolved that if called up on by the Security Council NATO or constituent member countries would enforce such a resolution and have done the necessary pre-planning and scoping study for that as they have done the necessary pre-planning for the enforcement of an arms embargo, the subject of a previous Security Council resolution and also for a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief.

Can I indicate today, as I have in the past as has the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister that there's no expectation that Australian defence or military assets will be called upon to effect such enforcement action. In my conversations with my defence ministerial colleagues in Brussels last week I made it clear that because of the closeness of Libya to North Africa obviously but also to the Mediterranean that in the first instance Australia believed it was appropriate for regional partners to effect enforcement action, and that's clearly the view adopted by NATO and its constituent members.

There's no intention on the part of the Australian Government to contribute military assets, and there is no expectation on the part of our partners and colleagues from NATO or from North Africa that we would be called upon to make such a contribution.

Equally, as I've said in the past I've made it clear that we'll continue to give consideration to what disaster relief or humanitarian assistance we can bring, including utilising military assets for that purpose, for example the use of a C17. But to date other than the financial contributions which we have made, which the Foreign Minister has again detailed today, there's been no need or call from the international community for us to utilise such an asset. But that remains on the table should it be required.

So we welcome very much that resolution today. I'm happy to respond to your questions on it or other matters.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about the situation on Christmas Island? [Indistinct] is there any chance that you could be sending personnel up there [indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm very happy to respond to that. Can I preface my remarks by saying that my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, has while I was travelling here, done a extensive press conference in Canberra, so I'll leave all of the detail to him. I'll just make a couple of points.

Firstly, any such disturbance or action by asylum seekers is of concern and I condemn that as my ministerial colleague, Mr Bowen, has, firstly. Secondly, you'd probably be aware that Australian Federal Police have now been asked to effectively take care and control and charge of the Christmas Island detention centre. The sensible thing of course is for those asylum seekers there to restore calm and to desist from such action.

It does not assist their cause in any way.

So far as the possible use of Defence or military assets is concerned, that's not something that we would contemplate.

This is a matter in the first instance for the Immigration Department and its relevant contractors, but when we see such contemptible violence which we condemn, from time to time, it is necessary to call upon the assistance of the Australian Federal Police, and that's been done with the arrival of additional resources from the Australian Federal Police today.

QUESTION: So are you ruling it out altogether?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes.

QUESTION: So speaking from a Defence point of view what concerns are there about what's happened on Christmas Island [indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well there are no concerns from Defence. The role that Defence has in terms of border protection is well known we have both aerial and patrol-boat assets which are utilised in conjunction with customs and border protection. That's the first point.

Secondly you'll recall that naval assets were involved and acted in my view very bravely in the terrible tragedy that we saw close to Christmas Island just before Christmas.

But as I've said there's no contemplation in terms of utilisation of Defence assets to restore order at Christmas Island.

That is, as I say, in the first instance, a matter for the contractors, and also for the contractors and also for the Federal Police. Defence does in conjunction with Customs and Border Protection play a surveillance role, both aerial and naval, and that's well known and been of longstanding.

QUESTION: You said that [indistinct] you haven't been asked to provide any Defence commitment now, but are you prepared [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, there's no expectation in my conversations with my NATO Defence Ministerial Colleagues, there's no expectation that Australia would be called upon largely because this is primarily an issue for North Africa and the Mediterranean, for North Africa and for Europe.

We have been strong supporters, diplomatically, of a notion of a no-fly zone because we believe that that was one very helpful contribution that the international community could make for protection of Libya's people and Libya's citizens, and we welcome very much the fact that again we see the Security Council moving to adopt practical measures so far as the notion of responsibility to protect is concerned.

But there's no expectation on the part of the international community or the regional community, ie, the Arab League or NATO, for Australian assets to be called upon, and I've made it clear to our international partners that we don't see a role for ourselves as well.

So there's no expectation on the part of either Australia or NATO or its constituent members that there would be a role for us, and that's obvious given the geography, and obvious given the fact that NATO and its constituent countries are effectively on Libya and North Africa's doorstep.

QUESTION: Can I just touch base on Afghanistan. Any developments?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've seen reports overnight about an incident in Tarin Kowt, and there's a reporting suggestion that Australians were involved. That's not the case. The advice I have from the Chief of the Defence Force this morning is that the incident concerned is the subject of an ISAF investigation, so I'm not in a position to give any further detail on that respect, but no Australian Defence Force personnel or any of our civilian diplomatic and development assistance personnel were involved in that incident.

I've seen some reports to the contrary, they're not correct.

QUESTION: In relation to CHOGM more broadly, there has been reports that there's not enough hotel rooms to host all the delegates [indistinct] coming here. Is that an embarrassment or a concern?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well the advice I have is that from the Commonwealth's perspective we certainly have enough hotel accommodation arrangements made to cater for the visiting leaders, Prime Ministers and presidents, the visiting foreign ministers, and their delegations. I think the reality is that when you have such a big event in any city - whether it's Perth or anywhere else in the country - when you have such a big event there is going to be competition for hotel accommodation, but the advice I have is that the Commonwealth has taken the necessary steps to make sure there is appropriate accommodation for the leaders - the foreign ministers - and their delegations.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] accommodation up to scratch?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well let me confess something to you - Perth is not a city that I often stay in a hotel room, but the advice I have is the hotel accommodation is appropriate for the leaders and their delegations.

Thanks very much. Thank you.

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